English as she is ambiguated: please read carefully

Those who travel regularly on Arriva Trains Wales from South Wales to the North, Manchester or Holyhead, will be familiar with the following request, really an instruction because of the moral overtones of failing to comply:

“Would all customers please dispose of litter in bins provided on trains and stations.”

As the train pulls into all the larger stations the announcement is made over the tannoy and appears in a slightly modified form scrolling horizontally across the neon message strip above the doors at the ends of the carriages:

“Would all customers Please disPose of litter in the bins Provided on Trains and Stations.

This strange mixture of upper and lower case letters rightly recognises that most of us find it easier to read lower than upper case but its execution in this instance is inhibited by the fact that ‘the line’ below which tailed letters, g, j, p, q and y, would appear is the bottom of the display strip.  To overcome this the letters would either need to be 33% smaller or the neon strip 50% deeper.

But as usual I digress.  The message conveyed is the same in both cases.

The first task is to find some litter if you haven’t any of your own.  This is rarely a problem as there is usually some close to hand.  Or foot.  The next task is to find a bin on the train and then, rather more challenging, leave the train in order to locate one at the station.  This is because the use of the conjunction ”and” in the instruction means that it is not sufficient merely to dispose of litter on the train but necessarily also in bins on the station.  Those who have not reached their destination station must then get back on the train before it leaves.

The problem is acute, created by the fact that the injunction applies to ALL customers, not just those who are leaving the train having reached their destination.  Because of the risk of failing to get back on board the train before it leaves it may be better to take luggage with you when you get off the train to locate a bin.  Luggage left unattended may of course be taken away and the subject of a controlled explosion.  Not unsurprisingly there is not usually a rush of people to get off the train clutching litter and in search of bins, presumably because the risk of being left behind is just too great.  It could take several successive trains and the entire day to complete the journey to distant destinations like Manchester with a large number of intermediate stops.

One key point worth noting, however, is that it doesn’t apply to all passengers.  The use of the term ‘customers’ (“a person who buys goods or services” OED) rather than “passengers” (“a traveller on a public or private conveyance other than the driver, pilot or crew” OED) means that it applies only to those who pay their fare. Fare-dodging passengers are not customers and so are excused the requirements of the injunction.  It could be that a defence against a charge of travelling without a ticket is that the stress which would be caused by the obligation to comply with the injunction is just too great and all you were trying to do was maintain your equilibrium, and in extreme cases, to protect your sanity.  And you were in any case bent over your keyboard when the ticket collector came along.

REFERENCE: See  “English as she is spoke”


This entry was posted in Grumpy Old Men, Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to English as she is ambiguated: please read carefully

  1. fleck1welsh says:

    Ha Ha! Very droll Barry.

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